BUDGAM: Large-scale deforestation has made the Poshkar area of Central Kashmir’s Budgam district vulnerable to landslides. In addition, stone quarrying in the area has also increased that threat.
While basic environmental standards have been neglected in an area vulnerable to such disasters, endangering thousands of lives, locals allege even Forest Department officials assist timber smugglers in cutting down trees.
Villages like Poshkar, Alamnag, Dudura, Hamchi Pora, Nagbal, Gogal Dora, Shoplian, Nowgam, Waizabal, Gulab Bagh, Haari Pora, and Zandipal are located at the foot of the Peer Panjal mountain range. And residents said the root cause of the landslides seems to be mindless deforestation and stone quarrying.
“Smugglers, riding on horses, come twice or thrice a week during the night with heavy cutting equipment like chainsaws to cut down the trees and sell the wood to people who are constructing houses,” said Mohammad Akbar Darzi, a local from Gulab Bagh.
He said that during the heavy downpour in June this year, landmass in a few areas where trees had been cut slid down, but the mass wasn’t big enough to affect houses located at the foot of the mountain. But, he added, if the deforestation aiding the rampant construction continues, soil erosion would eventually destroy every house in this mountain range.
Parts of the Peer Panjal mountain range, Darzi said, like in Beerwah, are rocky. These areas are prone to landslides due to stone quarrying.
Assistant Soil Conservation Officer PK Kudiyar told Kashmir Reader that deforestation is the key element which can initiate soil erosion and it can be prevented by employing basic environmental standards. “We can send a team to Poshkar area and will inspect the place. If it is prone to landslides, we will take preventive measures,” he claimed.
He said that there is a procedure in place under which landslides can be prevented in such areas: engineers take notice of the site, and based on that the department takes action.
Back in Poshkar, Abdul Rashid Wani, a resident, stresses that locals living at the foot of the mountain are risking their lives. Large-scale deforestation in this area, he says, has exposed many ranges and during heavy downpours they fear landslides. “When it rains heavily in this jungle, we can’t sleep peacefully. We fear a landmass can hit our houses anytime,” he said.
Stone quarrying is also weakening the base of the mountain and there are chances it can hit many villages beside Beerwah, in case of a collapse, said Abdul Rahman Dar, a resident of Aarwah. “Hundreds of trucks carry stones from Beerwah mountain, which will eventually come down and hit hundreds of houses located at its base,” he said.
The District Forest Officer Tangmarg, Mehraj-ud-din, accepts that this part of the Peer Panjal range is prone to timber smuggling and has been severely affected. “Despite officials working hard round the clock to prevent smuggling, this range is deeply affected due to deforestation and has become vulnerable to land erosion,” he said.
On his part, Forest Range Officer Beerwah Malik Feroz Ahmad claimed that there is a forest guard for every 10 square feet, but the threat from smugglers is acute as they usually outnumber the guards. “There are less chances of protecting every tree here as smugglers out-muscle the guards,” he said.